Houston Calling

Ten Questions for The Karma Manifesto

June 26th, 2005 · No Comments

Have you heard of local rock band The Karma Manifesto? If not, you should check them out — their website (www.thekarmamanifesto.com) has plenty of song clips and information about the band.

You can catch the band live this Sunday (July 3, 2005) at Del’s Lookout in Surfside — I hope you can make it out.

I recently asked David Glaser of The Karma Manifesto some questions for the site. He was very honest with his answers and had some choice things to say about the Houston music scene and fans. I hope you enjoy it. Check it out below and feel free to discuss in the message board.

Ten Questions for The Karma Manifesto

HC: How did The Karma Manifesto get started as a band?

DG: The Karma Manifesto has at its roots been maintained by two of its members — myself (David Glaser, guitarist/singer) and Kevin Dolan (drums). We met at a show I was playing at Mary Jane’s (before it was Fat Cat’s) with Chase Hamblin of the Dreambreakers. I had just moved back from NYC and Chase and I were going to start a band together. It was just the two of us on electric guitars and we pretty much blew. Kevin was brought to the show by a friend of my sister’s, who he worked with. Kevin had been a drummer in NYC for years with pretty great success including European tours, sold-out shows at Irving Plaza, Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge and such, and a forthcoming record contract. Things fell apart with the band (who incidently, I didn’t really care for upon hearing recordings later on) and Kevin got into a motorcycle accident and messed up his shoulder. He came here to Houston to get treatment and heal. He in turn didn’t care for what Chase and I were doing, but happened to think one of Chase’s songs had some possibility and asked us to get a tape of it together so he could send it off to one of his friends who is a manager back east.

That didn’t pan out, but we struck up a friendship and we started jamming. I needed a drummer and he wanted to get back into shape. He then realized how insanely talented I was and I vice versa and we began our long road to obscurity together. We went through several line-up changes, swelling to a six piece last April and then cutting back to a three piece. Our hardest spot to fill has been bass, running through several lackluster musicians who ran the gamut from “lazy” to “racist asshole.” We have now hopefully forever filled the position with Jeremy Lajmer, a young chap who wasn’t particularly pleased with the directrion of his last band and was looking to jump ship at the same time we were planning to steal him.

HC: What do consider to be your musical influences?

DG: Musical influences — many, many. One of the interesting things is the responses we get from other people. They are pretty wild and varied. Let’s see… some people have suggested these: Bowie, The Animals, Hendrix meets Floyd (I used to love that one, but it is starting to grate on me), Chili Peppers meets Bob Dylan (weird one), Allman Brothers, some guy called us Pop Zeppelin. I guess there is a lot there.

I like to think of my influences as being Miles Davis, Massive Attack, Hendrix, Beatles, Zeppelin, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Jane’s Addiction, Morphine, the Stooges, Velvet Underground, Billy Joel, the Doors, Nirvana, Sinatra, James Brown, Sly Stone, Jeff Buckley, and the Roots. Oh, and definitely Prince. Other band members cited Buddy Rich, Otis Redding, Motown, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, any Celtic music, Gene Krupa, Zeppelin, Chili Peppers, The Stones, Victor Wooten, Paul McCartney, etc.

HC: What’s your take on the state of the music industry? Are you for or against the MP3 “revolution”? You have a pretty good website — lots of music and resources for fans. How do you use the internet as a tool to market yourself? Do you find it helpful?

DG: Ahh, the state of the music industry. Well, it’s definitely going through some changes isn’t it? Technology — ain’t it grand. I read an article not too long ago about the death of the album. That made me sad. But live performances are really where it’s at anyway, so we will all adapt and survive. As far as MP3s go, I think they are great for exposure. Most new artists don’t make squat from their records, hopefully they got a good merch deal, so really as long as you are out there and people are coming to your shows, that’s about all you can hope for until you are Metallica big. Then you have all the money in the world because you renegotiated your deal and you don’t want anything to impinge on you points. But who really buys new Metallica albums anyway?

So I say why fight the inevitable? If it means some kid in Omaha will be jamming to The Karma Manifesto, I am all for it. The record companies are still going to make their money somehow, you can bet on that. And the cogs will all just move in different ways. When we run out of oil, no one will care anyway.

HC: A similar question: What’s your take on the Houston music scene? I know it can be frustrating for local bands to play to lackluster or nonexistent crowds — maybe it’s apathy, maybe it’s so many choices. How would you change Houston’s music scene for the better?

DG: As far as the Houston music scene goes, it’s really tough to offer any pretty picture of it. Obviously for those in the press refuting the idea that the scene here is lacking luster, that is just part of good business, in my opinion. Can’t write about a scene if there isn’t one, right?

There are many good musicians here and many, many lousy ones. That can be said for any city, though. It is pretty much relative to your population with a variance for artist appreciation (not much here, unfortunately). The problem in Houston lies mostly with venues and audiences. There is not a single good club in this city for a musican to play at. Sure there are nice venues some even have good sound or a backstage area, perhaps nice management or are fun place to play. However, it is NOT a priority of a single owner, manager or booker in this town that I have been acquainted with to foster the scene.

Most of the bookers don’t give dime one about who or what is playing as long as they can guarantee SOME audience. The Fat Cat’s/Number’s/Walter’s thing is a perfect example. I live very close to Washington (Avenue) and I see all these teenagers lined up to see their high school bands there. Very much like the Abyss used to be in its dying das. For these kids it’s a hoot to go out somewhere and watch there friends, but is that really good for the bands? Those are the only people there for them. Maybe performing for 35 of their friends is the ultimate for them, but someday they’ll be wondering where there fan base went. Well, they went to college and no one is left to see you at Fat Cat’s anymore. There is no venue cultivation for acquiring larger audiences there.

It seems to me to be good business to bring in the very best bands there and to show them off for an audience that doesn’t really know them that maybe people come because your venue is know for having some talent walk through its doors. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a venue in this city that was reliable in its taste and execution? But that is too much to ask. A band can completely blow and if they got their 25 classmates there then book them for four more shows. You can’t trust the venues. There is hardly any downtown scene of ANY sort here for any thing local and still Engine Room will not promote its local bands. You have to leave Houston and acheive some notoriety in Austin or Dallas and then Houstonians will take the time to listen. They’ll love you just because you are popular. Yes, we are that clique-y.

Here, the band is expected to do everything and if you are not in high school and have hundreds of friends at your disposal or “Mr./Mrs. Social” and have your consistent same 25 people that are the only ones at every and any show, you don’t survive. Clubs possibly might book you once if they actually like you. The bar staff and managers will tell you how great you are and how they really have never heard anything like this in Houston, they wish they did. “Great time at the show guys, but our club doesn’t have any sort of reliable clientele because we don’t book consistently or cater to customers in any way imaginable so unless you have your own entourage we can’t have you back.” (Or,) “Sorry guys, people just don’t care about seeing live music in this city.”

I don’t know if it’s the clubs’ fault from way back when or the audiences’ fault for turning the clubs this way, but it is how it is. We shut down Satellite Lounge to make way for a salon, but we continue to put a $50 deposit down to play at Fitzgerald’s in order to get a staph infection. It looked like Helio’s was actually gettin ready to foster a scene, as lousy a venue as it is, but then the lawyer who lives behind them basically shut that down. Got to love the zoning here.

Even someone as touted in the Houston Press as Michael Haaga plays to what I would call disappointing audiences. I don’t think there is a Houston musician (maybe Yoria) who gets mentioned in the paper more than Michael. I happened to see him at the Rockin’ for Rise event a few weeks ago. He played a great show…to like 10 people — and they were mostly other bands! Here is a highly promoted event at our premiere venue — the Meridian — with sponsors like Hooters, Hawaiian Tropic, Rock Star Energy drink, and Papa John’s, for a great cause, set up beautifully by Veronica Butler from Camino and others, and no owe in this town can get off their asses to come out. They had about 400 people through the door all day… ALL DAY! 24 bands, two stages. That’s about 10 people per band.

The only bands that do get any public notoriety are cover bands. Some that are quite good, but is that what original musicians have to do to make money? In a word, yes. We are even looking into it now. At least we can sneak in 10 or more songs of ours in a three-hour set to a drunken crowd in some meatmarket and maybe gain some fans while earning, dare I say it, gas money?

There are groups trying to combat this wretched environment like the Houston Band Coalition and the recently formed Houston Soundboard. I wish them luck, I really do, but after going to a few of their shows I again realized they have their group of friends and that is who comes out to see them. They’ll pick up a few fans along the way, but for the work they put into it the payoff is not much. If their fans don’t make it, NO ONE is going. We all work for free at the end of the day.

How do we fix it? Boycotting the clubs is probably the only way, but then we can’t do what we love. I mean, The Karma Manifesto has two billboards up and we can barely gain any steam from them. What a buzz that would create on the west coast or in NYC or Boston! The clubs just don’t care. The audiences don’t give a damn. They have us by the balls. I hope for somebody to prove me wrong in a major way very soon. I am very quickly reaching the end of my rope.

HC: What’s your dream gig?

DG: Dream gig? Anything packed with sweaty people that pays nicely with the bar tab taken care of. I always thought whereever the hell Velvet Revolver was playing in their video for their first single (I think it was “Slither”?) looked really cool. We like old school, underground sorts of places with too cool people and girls with too much makeup compelled to get sweaty with us because they love us… with the free drinks thing. Of course, we are still waiting to hear from Madison Square Garden. I think our press kit got lost in the mail or something.

HC: How do you guys approach the songwriting and recording process?

DG: Slowly. No really, as far as songwriting goes. I pretty much come up with the structure and lyrics, but leave it open to see what Kevin and Jeremy do with it. 95% of the time their ideas for their parts are much better than what I heard in my head, but occasionally we will have to sit down and groove through it. Of course, all the songs continue to grow and morph, hopefully becoming better animals along the way. Our first recording we did with Nick Midulla from Cryolab and of Superna fame. Nick and Superna recently left for LA after getting fed up with the scene here and are playing the Viper Room this month, incidently. Go figure. Well, it was my first time recording and we learned a lot. Definitely would do things a bit different next time which hopefully will be before summer’s end. We hardly sound anything like that EP anymore. Much more refined, yet louder and nastier.

HC: I hear a big classic rock influence in your music. If you could have any band cover one of your songs, what song would it be and what band?

DG: Scary question. Johnny Cash doing “Nation of Pieces.” I don’t know if that’s “classic rock” though. Hmmm…Lou Reed doing “Electric Rainbow Sun,” I guess. That’s the hardest question so far.

HC: What is the one description that you hate to hear about your music?

DG: I guess that we suck, but no one’s ever said that. I am still at a point where I am very amused with what people have to say. You are always going to be compared with your predecessors and it is an honor to mentioned with their names. I am getting a bit sick of Hendrix meets Floyd, but mostly because I don’t hear it in our stuff. I get the Hendrix part and we are psychedelic to an extent, but not in the same vein as Floyd. More like Jane’s trippy, “Summertime Rolls” trippy.

I do hate it when we are playing at some small venue that we grossly misbooked upon someone’s reccomendation, like when we played Cabo Lago on Lake Travis this past weekend and we were told to turn down. We are not even that loud for a Texas band. Shouldn’t have been there in the first place, though. It’s like a country club resort. But we did get paid a nice chunk of change!

HC: What’s next for the band — are you guys recording an album?

DG: What’s next? Fortune and glory I hope. We would sincerely like to get in the studio and someone has been talking with us about taking us in there soon, but he is a busy guy in the scene here and I don’t know if it will materialize or not, so I won’t mention his name. We are all broke, so we really can’t afford it ourselves. We are looking for wealthy benefactors at the moment if you know any. Otherwise, we had a busy last month playing 11 shows, so I think after the 4th of July we will concentrate on getting some of our newer material I’ve been writing worked out and probably play some of these 50% original/ 50% cover shows to try and earn some money to facilitate our expenses for playing elsewhere so we can become popular enough for Houstonians to come see us!

HC: What is in your CD player right now?

DG: Alarm clock: Raw Power, Iggy & the Stooges / CD player: Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits / car player: Talking Book, Stevie Wonder. Can’t wait to get the new White Stripes album though.

(Final note:) DG: I am sorry to seem so down about Houston and the amount of opportunities it provides for its local artisans. I grew up here and we have had a lot of fun playing to whatever size audiences we have had. The people that do take the time to care and come out are very supportive and we do appreciate them and the venues that invite us to play. But there are discernable problems with the scene and if we all don’t speak up with a loud voice there will never be any change. There are venues with what I believe to be oodles of opportunity if they just open their eyes and take the time to care about their businesses with long-term goals. Places like the Scout Bar, the Rhythm Room, Engine Room, Clark’s, and Dean’s (Credit Clothing), the Forgettaboutit’s, and others. But they have to want more than just selling some drinks, and we as musicians have to want more than playing for free to our friends. We can do that at home. The idea is to start a community and spread your message and in turn for the venue to have pride and want to have the best damn music that this region has to offer… to create the legends. That requires attention and that is something a venue needs to help us draw — fresh warm bodies. Otherwise, all you do is preach to the converted and that never gets you anywhere except the bottom of your Kool-Aid cup.

Special thanks goes out to David Glaser for taking the time to answer my questions — and for being so open and honest about it all. Truth hurts, no? I am sure this will spark some debate or some serious nodding in mild agreement, so why not head on over to the Houston Calling message board and post your thoughts, concerns, opinions, etc.

Be sure to check out The Karma Manifesto as they play this Sunday at Del’s Lookout in Surfside. They also play at Clark’s on Main
Street on July 12th.

Now Playing in My iPod: The Doors — various songs

Tags: Music